I enrolled in Goddard College’s low residency program for an MFA in Creative Writing that began in July 2017. At my fourth and final residency in February 2018, I celebrated my seventieth birthday. On July 15, 2018 I graduated with a Masters in Creative Writing. The past two years have been challenging and joyful as I worked my way through a creative thesis of over two hundred pages while also reading published authors and writing critical papers about devices and techniques they use to create narrative. I got everything I expected out of this program – an understanding of literary devices such as plot and character development, theme and subtheme, scene and narrative arc. I also got something I didn’t expect. As family, friends and acquaintances began congratulating me, I was told over and over again that I was an inspiration. At first I was flattered that I could be seen as inspirational in any way at all – me – an all-around average, everyday kind of woman.
After a long series of self-directed questions, it slowly dawned on me that compared to my cohorts in the graduate program I was quite elderly. It was a revelation to realize that I was a case-in-point poster child for mentally functional elderly adults. Once I figured this out, I was delighted. I’ve spent a lifetime pursuing dreams like writing and publishing poetry, running marathons, or learning to use a torch so I can create metal sculpture. Clearly, this most recent pursuit – figuring out how to write a good novel – is just one more thing tacked onto a long list. But, still… Me? As inspiration?
I see myself as a dogged overachiever and lifelong student. In fact, I’m rather proud of this internal component, which is so thoroughly built into my personality. Over the years, as I pursued my passions, I often doubted myself. But I had one thing going for me. I believed in my ability to learn and was always ready to take a course that would help me succeed in doing whatever it was I wanted to do. My mother often referred to me as the perennial student, a label I was happy to wear. And this attitude may be what keeps my brain functional, though I believe most of the seventy year olds I know demonstrate very healthy, imaginative minds. There are a few, of course, whose cognitive processes have slowed or stumbled – but not very many of my friends seem to have faded noticeably. Most of us have lived healthy, active lives. We’ve stayed involved in the world at large. We look at our foibles with a sense of humor and often get each other laughing over our missteps. I rather think that a sense of humor is an indicator that there’s a good mind behind all the laughter.
So if I am an inspiration, let it be about believing in discovery. Let it be about trusting that I am capable of learning what is needed. Let it be about my willingness to do the work that will gain a necessary understanding. It’s all about keeping the brain growing, raising your awareness. It’s also about reaching out to people who know the things you don’t. I love a good challenge and I plan to go on running whatever gauntlet catches my fancy for however many days I have left on the planet. Maybe I’ll go for a PhD at age eighty.